First Generation Students
Last night I attended a dinner on campus for students who are the first members of their family to attend a university. I was happy to join them, because I was sort of a first generation college student myself. Neither my mother nor my father attended college as young people, although my mother went to the University of North Alabama (UNA) to complete a degree in social work while I was in high school, and we were students together at UNA for a year. (You might imagine that it was a little embarrassing to ride to college many days along with your mother. I confess.) The main thing is that I grew up in a household that did not understand how college worked and could offer me no role model for life in a professional career.
As I sat with the students, we talked about the challenges of being a “first gen.” Most of the students face serious financial challenges in going to university, and so they were heavily dependent on financial aid from Northwest. As a matter of fact, 23% of our students come from households that earn less than $40,000 in total combined earnings. Not only can parents not afford to pay for their college costs, they often don’t know how to advise them in seeking aid or navigating the complexities of survival at college. About half the people in America who attempt a college degree never finish it, and first-gen students face many pitfalls and obstacles that threaten their persistence to graduation.
Obstacles to student success include racial and cultural differences, romantic entanglements and commitments, health challenges, financial need, time management, homesickness, academic difficulties and many other factors. When a first-gen graduates, it is truly a glorious achievement. That’s why I attended the dinner. I wanted our students to know that I have walked where they are walking and that I am 100% on their side to offer help, advice, and cheerleading, and I look forward to celebrating their success at a future graduation ceremony.
Several of the students I had dinner with were international students. Some came from severe economic challenge. Some were academic stars planning on medical careers. One student came to Northwest from Uganda, by way of Boston—where her pastor prophesied to her that she would attend Northwest University and become a significant leader there. They had to look us up on the Internet to find us, since neither had ever heard of Northwest. Every single one of them was beautiful, promising, full of faith, and worthy of our fullest support. I left the meeting excited about their futures—and committed to praying for them.
Would you join me in praying for First-Gen students at Northwest this year? God has brought them here, and God is able to bring them through.